IBM has just reported on a project called ‘compass’. (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/ibm-brain-simulation-compass.html) . This project tries to simulate the brain of macaque monkey, which has almost ten times more neurons than the human. This simulation runs on ninety-six powerful computers. Let us say, this simulated brain model acts and thinks like a biological brain. Of course, it would not know that it is just a simulation. It would probably think of itself as a real living thing and not something virtual. Would this simulation have a mind, consciousness or even emotions? I think this simulation study may very well lead to an answer to the question ‘what are we?’ I think this is a better question than ‘Who are we?’
On a related topic, scientists think they can now test whether the universe is nothing but a computer simulation (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/whoa-physicists-testing-see-universe-computer-simulation-224525825.html), like in the movie Matrix. If the universe is a simulation, everything in it is just a computer code. Needless to say, we are no different from the machines we create.
University of Waterloo researcher Chris Eliasmith and his team have built a software model of human brain (http://www.tgdaily.com/general-sciences-features/67819-artificial-brain-spaun-passes-iq-tests). This model, called SPAUN, can imitate human brain with a 2.5 million virtual neurons. The important thing to note from these studies is that SPAUN makes mistakes just like human do. It can remember the first and last item in a list better than the items in the middle, just like us. Computers do not make such mistakes. This model will certainly help neuroscience research and this approach is certainly valid but my question to other researchers who simply want to put a human brain inside a machine is this. Why build a machine that is flawed just like us? I believe the future machines should all be based on computation methods that are used in present day computers. This technology will eventually create machines that will be more powerful than the human brain, but will still be under human control because it is created by human. This is like a 500 kg elephant that is much more powerful than a 75 kg man but obeying his orders!!
Will be posting reports on recent developments in the fields of Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness. My interests in these areas resulted in my first book, a science fiction titled ‘Slaves To Neurons‘ published in November 2012. I am sure you will find this book more than worth your time. Even if you have only casual interests in these fields, I would still recommend this book as it also deals with our emotions. If you have already read my book, I welcome your comments and feedback.